Wal-Mart is the world’s largest company, operating more than 9700 retail units in 28 countries, with 2.1 million associates/employees, and more than 60,000 suppliers. They feature low prices on thousands of products, from clothing to toiletries to food and many other consumable and durable goods.
Wal-Mart is the largest private purchaser of electricity in the U.S., responsible for some 19 million metric tons of CO2 annually, but, after asking 2 environmental organizations to conduct an impact assessment, developed 14 “sustainable value networks” of stakeholders. The company increased its overall energy efficiency by 25% with a commensurate reduction in overall emissions of its trucking fleet, designed and built several 100% renewable energy stores, offer reusable bags for customers, is the number one purchaser of certifiable sustainably harvested fish, as well as organic food and cotton, met its goal of selling 100 million CFLs within 3 years, and encourages its customers to recycle electronics purchased at its stores.
However, Wal-Mart has been accused of wage discrimination against its female associates/employees, of not effectively monitoring and managing its suppliers for human rights violations, of callously entering many small towns and destroying local family-owned businesses and sense of community, of demonstrating a strong anti-union stance, and of using its newly-found environmental philosophy and plans to mute criticism of its socially-questionable practices.
Even Wal-Mart’s environmental track record has been questioned, as its strategy of locating on the outer periphery of cities and towns has been identified as a key contributor to urban sprawl, its massive roofs and parking lots have been associated with increasing urban runoff into surrounding waterways, and its apparent lack of policy on the destruction of wildlife habitat associated with its “big box” stores in potentially ecologically-important rural areas. Finally, even as the world’s biggest retailer, it has yet to address the issue of sustainable consumption by identifying its overall total environmental impact on the planet. These impacts include its shipping of goods all around the world and its “buy more for less” promotional message, potentially contributing to the development (and waste) of a global “consumerist culture”, which in itself may not be sustainable.
After reviewing some of the resources below and any other information you can gather that is relevant, please answer the following questions: Is Wal-Mart a good example of business sustainability? Why or why not? Assuming every organization can improve its sustainability policies and practices, what else should Wal-Mart consider to advance sustainability comprehensively and consistently in order to achieve a better “triple bottom line”? How might it employ one or more of the concepts in the HIH text Chapter 8 International Strategy and/or Chapter 9 Cooperative Strategy and any chapter in the Steads’ text? While not listed in the HIH chapters, cooperative strategies could involve NGOs, communities, and/or governments, either domestic or international.
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